Santa Rosa and Manizales


While we are not city people, we do sometimes enjoy the perks of big towns. One of them is the restaurants. We love to cook and most of the space in our van that isn’t dedicated to tools and spare parts, is full of kitchen equipment and ingredients. While we cook 95% of the time, we cant resist a good veggie or vegan restaurant when they come up. It looked like Periera had a rather exciting, all vegan menu and while we didn’t want to stay in the city, we couldn’t resist dropping by for lunch.
There’s nothing worse than paying for a fancy meal and then being disappointed by it and we’ve been there too many times. Especially when you’re on a budget and its a treat, perhaps on of the reasons we don’t eat out too often. However, this place certainly delivered. We agonised over the menu for a while, there was so many good things to choose from, before finally picking a load of different things to share, with a nice couple of cocktails to round it all off too.

A popular activity in the small town near to Pereira is the hot springs at Santa Rosa. We had found out that if you arrived after 4pm, it was a cheap rate as well. It was around an hour from Periera on a small dirt road that climbed back up into the mountains and feeling extremely full, we set off.

Soon the tarmac gave way to dirt as we continued to climb. For the most part it was an easy road, but single lane which was a little tricky at times when we met the day coaches coming the other way, full of tourists. We made it into the car park, and I worried slightly about how we would make it back out the next day when gravity was not on our side. For now though, we had some hot springs to sit in.
We paid the entrance fee and headed in. We had hoped to go to one of the waterfalls off to side, but they way was all roped off. This left us with an array of pools, all of varying temperatures. It was quite a resorty kind of place, where the natural thermal waters had been diverted and pumped into several large swimming pools and some smaller Turkish baths which were almost too hot to sit in. It was nice for an hour or so, but I cant say I was blown away. My favourite part was probably the actual river by the entrance where you could swim in a more of a natural setting, the smell of sulfur was a bit strong, but it was a little more interesting. My lack of enthusiasm for the place is also reflected by my lack of photos.

They do provide showers but they aren’t heated and by the time we got out of the pools mid-evening, the evening temperature was cold with the altitude. The last thing I wanted was a cold shower, we bagged up all the wet clothes to wash properly later and headed back to the van. We were allowed to camp right here on the parking lot which was perfect. The last of the cars left soon and we had the place to ourselves for a completely silent night.

In the morning, it was time to move on. We weren’t done with hot springs yet and planned to visit ones that were a little different in El Sifon. There was some debate as to the state of this road though, and we knew that if we did manage to make it up there to over 4000m, it was going to be slow. Not fancying a bad road at the end of a long drive, we decided to stop for the night in Manizales and hit the bad road fresh the next day with plenty of time to take it steady.

Some Americans we had met in Salento had recommended taking the cathedral tour in Manizales, where it possible to go up for a wonderful 360 degree view from the tallest church in Colombia.
First though, we needed to get back to the tarmac. Lee was driving this morning and we took a run up at the steepest section which was the first part out of the car park. We hoped no one was coming the other way as we attacked the hill in 1st gear at about 4000rpm. It was a long enough stretch that by the time we rounded the final curve, foot flat on the floor and slowing gradually, I wondered if we would actually make it. But we did, just. As always. At least now after a rather brutal start, it was easy downhill cruising to Santa Rosa and then a pretty serviceable main road to the city of Manizales.

We arrived at the cathedral and found some secure parking, before walking over and booking the tour. We were told the tour was at 2.15pm and lasted an hour and a half so we headed off to grab a drink while we waited. For some reason, I thought we had an hour and a half. Then as we sat enjoying our drinks in a little square around the corner, we checked the time to realise it was 2.15 right now and we were late. So we paid the bill very quickly and jogged around the corner to see if we could still make it. We thought we had missed it, no one was there, but after checking with the ticket office it seemed we were somehow still early. We probably could have stayed and finished our drinks, as the tour made a leisurely start about 15 minutes later, Latin American time.

We started by taking the lift up to the first floor where it was possible to see some of the beautiful stained glass up close.

Our guide then took us outside and around to a little room where we watched a film about the history of the Cathedral. Then he proceeded to explain in very fast Spanish (we were the only foreign tourists) about the rest of the tour. While I didn’t totally get it, I did pick out the key words, scared, dark, vertigo, stairs. We wondered what we had signed up for as we walked outside to make a start on our ascent.

The start of the stairs in the dark

It soon became apparent that we would start by climbing up on one of the outer towers on a small stone staircase that spiralled upwards to the next floor. That was the part that was in the dark. We shuffled upwards, feeling for the walls and stairs with instructions that turning on our phone torches would ruin the atmosphere. After a little while we emerged on the roof of the cathedral for the next part.

Here we walked along the ridge of the roof, before climbing up the outside of the roof on stairs embedded into the exterior. Fortunately all of this was enclosed in some study metal railings, otherwise scaling the outside of the roof might not have been so appealing. As we climbed higher, the views improved but we still had a way to go.

After the outside section, the final climb was inside the main central tower as we had now gone higher than four small turrets on the corners. Inside a set of new shiny orange stairs continued onwards. I’m glad we had arrived after the stairs upgrade as the remnants old wooden stairs still stood to one side and looked distinctly worse for wear.

Before we climbed the last part we were given little shoe covers so that we could walk on the glass ceiling in the centre without scratching the glass. We looked down a very long way to the rows of pews on the floor below.

Then it was onwards to the top, before we emerged out at the highest point on a little platform. I wasn’t unhappy that we were once again in a wire cage, as it was a pretty long way up.

The view was incredible. You could really appreciate the scale of the town and also the terrain on which it was built. It sprawled throughout the immediate mountain landscape irrespective of the hills and valleys. In the background, squalls of rain hit the highest peaks, while the sun lit up patches on the green hills to the other side. We tried to pick out the peak of Nevado del Ruiz where we were heading tomorrow, the second highest volcano in the country and after 1985, the 4th most deadly volcano in the world. Standing at 5321 metres, its peak was completely obscured by clouds, hopefully tomorrow wed get a better view.

After a good look at the view we made our way back down. This was a tad quicker, especially now they had turned the lights on for the final set of staircases. Back on the floor, we stopped for one last looked at the fantastic stained glass.

Now satisfied, we headed back to Ruby and went off in search of some free camping. We stayed on the university campus, parking up next to the sports field for the night and thinking about the next days drive.

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